Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Maple Leaf Helicopters: Autorotation

Fine young gent and I headed outdoors for some front yard science, an exploration of the physics of maple seeds. I followed this link (to the Glenn Learning Technologies Project, which looks fabulous if you've got a kid interested in aeronautics in general-- check out the sidebar for more aeronautics lessons and activities), to print the page shown in fine young gent's science notebook. We've already explored maple seed science a bit, as I recorded in this post, and in this one too.

This is a very simple project. The lesson includes activity instructions and an explanation of autorotation. Kindergarten gent didn't quite understand the entire explanation, but he got some of it and for a kindergartener that's plenty.

I copied the "helicopter" shapes onto card stock, fine young gent cut them out, and we headed out to the yard to watch them spin through the air. In fine young gent's words, from his science notebook pictured above (words in italics were my prompt to get him back on track):

"We cut out the helicopters. Then we put the paper clips on. Mom got the stool and we went outside. We stood on the stool and we threw helicopters from up in the sky and Mom was taking pictures. I noticed...some just dropped to the ground and some of them spun....We got some real helicopter seeds from the grass and they worked the best. But not the paper ones."

The seeds are starting to spin down from the maple trees we pass on our morning walks. We were surprised to find that the answer to one of our questions-- do the seeds break apart into single winged helicopters, or do the leaves remain in pairs?-- was the opposite of what we'd expected. Unlike the seeds from our next-door neighbor's tree, which fall as single leaves in much the same shape as in the lesson plan above, the seeds of the other trees fall in pairs. Fine young gent and I are planning a helicopter seed spin-off to determine which shape seed spins the best.

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